Race Weekend Central

2019 NASCAR Driver Reviews: Ross Chastain

Think about your commute to your work. How long do you drive? Because this year, Ross Chastain completed 15,618 laps driving in all three NASCAR national series.

Chastain emerged as a fan favorite in 2019, and the 27-year-old from Alva, Fla., had quite a banner year.

Entering 2019, Chastain endured a roller coaster of emotions. He lost his ride at Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series after his prospective sponsor encountered financial troubles. He re-signed with JD Motorsports with Gary Keller and agreed to drive three races for Kaulig Racing. Chastain also planned on racing part time with Niece Motorsports in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

As has been well-documented, those plans changed, and Chastain ultimately finished second in the Truck Series championship standings after switching his points allegiance from Xfinity to Truck.

Meanwhile, Chastain competed in 35 of the 36 races in the NASCAR Cup Series; the lone race in which he did not drive was the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway in June. Otherwise, he drove the Nos. 15 Chevrolet and 27 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports.

Driving in underfunded equipment, Chastain only finished on the lead lap in five Cup Series races. That statistic may disappoint, but he finished 32 races. Moreover, in his three DNFs, none of the reasons listed for his departure were listed due to accidents. It’s correct to say, then, that Chastain quietly avoided trouble in the Cup Series, a sought-after characteristic for smaller teams when looking for prospective drivers.

In the season-opening Daytona 500, he gained 26 positions to finish 10th in the Daytona 500, marking the first top-10 finish in his Cup Series career. Remarkably, Chastain completed all the laps that race weekend (he finished third in the Truck event and 13th in Xfinity), quite an achievement.

At Talladega Superspeedway in April, Chastain led nine laps before eventually finishing 26th. It was the first time in his Cup Series career he led more than a single lap at a superspeedway. He later displayed his budding superspeedway prowess when he won the Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway in July.

With his popularity increasing, Xchange of America sponsored his No. 27 Chevrolet for the Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Chastain finished 30th, but the company recognized his talent and sponsored him in three additional Cup Series races.

In the second Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway, Chastain marched up through the field to gain 22 spots from his starting position to finish 12th.

When not logging laps on track, whether it be in practice, qualifying or races, Chastain endeared himself to fans. During the Chicagoland Speedway race weekend, Chastain visited some fans in the infield campground. True to his roots, Chastain delivered a watermelon to a fan.

Indeed, he had become the watermelon man.

Chastain visited victory lane in both the Xfinity and Truck series. His signature move upon winning became the smashing of a watermelon, a nod to his family’s watermelon farm in Florida.

In addition to being known as the watermelon man, Chastain became further relatable to fans when he informed fans of his living arrangements for the Homestead-Miami Speedway race weekend.

The camper may not be viewed as the most luxurious, but it did not prevent Chastain from finishing fourth, two positions behind champion Matt Crafton, that weekend.

Understandably, Chastain was disappointed with not winning the Truck Series title in likely his last bid for the championship, but he maintained perspective.

Chastain was involved in two controversial moments in NASCAR this year. In the Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway, he crossed the finish line in first place, seemingly winning the race and earning himself a playoff bid. However, his No. 44 Chevrolet failed post-race inspection and NASCAR disqualified his victory. However, at the next event, Chastain won at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and redemption was sweet as his truck passed post-race inspection this time.

The ending to Chastain’s season also featured controversy. In the Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Chastain overcame some issues on his No. 27 Chevrolet to finish 25 laps down in 35th place. His finish made the No. 27 the highest finishing non-charter entry.

Yet NASCAR determined Premium Motorsports colluded with Rick Ware Racing and Spire Motorsports to manipulate the race so the No. 27 car could earn that distinction. As a result, NASCAR fined team owner Jay Robinson $50,000 and docked the No. 27 entry 50 points, negating its finish as the highest non-chartered entry.

At the Truck Series awards banquet, Chastain won the most popular driver award.

Next year, Chastain will drive the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet full time in the Xfinity Series. He has two wins, six top fives and 20 top 10s in 158 starts, and with the Xfinity Big 3 graduated to the Cup Series, Chastain is a favorite to win the championship.

There have not been any announcements whether Chastain will continue competing in the Cup Series and/or Truck Series next year. With the new car scheduled to debut in 2021, Jimmie Johnson’s retirement from full-time driving after 2020, and other uncertainties, Chastain could be a popular name for open Cup Series rides in 2021.

2019 Stats

35 starts, zero wins, zero top fives, one top 10

Best finish: 10th, Daytona (winter)

Point standings: ineligible for Cup Series points

Grade: C+

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

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